Israeli food owes some of its popularity abroad to the so-called Mediterranean diet that many people have embraced in recent years for its purported benefits for one’s health and its pleasure of the palate. This dietary pattern is a plant-forward way of eating characterized by a daily intake of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, beans, lentils and nuts, in addition to more limited consumption of fish, chicken, eggs, yogurt and cheese. Such fare – including olive oil at its finest, fresh vegetables and herbs, and the best feta cheese and yogurt we’d ever tasted – was a highlight of a recent visit to Greece for my husband and me, following our stay in Israel.
Two dear friends from Paris, Antoine and Laurence, who have a wonderful rustic home on the beautiful Greek island of Patmos, overlooking the Skala harbor, kindly invited us to stay with them. Their warm hospitality coupled with the friendliness of local residents made for a memorable sojourn, albeit too brief.
From our first meal to the last, the food in Patmos was a perfect accompaniment to the blissful, sun-kissed surroundings. The island’s tranquility, unhurried pace of life and the constant presence of the sea and an unobstructed view of the big, usually cloudless sky proved therapeutic.
One evening, Antoine and Laurence suggested we have dinner at a new vegan restaurant called Pernera Vegan in Skala. It was a veritable treat. (Vegan restaurants figure prominently in Tel Aviv, which today is considered one of the world’s top locations for such eateries.).
To open Pernera Vegan, its young owners used crowdfunding among Patmos residents to help make it possible. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by Costa, one of the group running the restaurant. He gave us a good explanation of the menu and the thinking behind Penera Vegan.
Everything we ordered was a delight. The first dish, a heathy virgin of falafel was baked instead of deep fried. It was perfectly prepared, with an aroma of herbs and spices that made us crave for more. Served with freshly-baked, homemade pita bread, the falafels were golden brown and crispy on the outside while the insides were tender, delicious, and full of fresh herbs.
Next came a vegan virgin of lahme bajin whose stuffing consisted of lentils, fresh herbs and chickpeas instead of meat. It was one-of-a-kind and by far the best dish of the dinner.
We also had a platter of tasty homemade humus and tahini and a variety of fresh salads.
We loved the food, its simplicity and the fact you can eat a healthy dinner without feeling full and heavy afterwards.
The next morning, we returned for breakfast. It reminded us of breakfasts popular in Israel.
Small platters of fresh salad, an omelet (this one eggless and full of fresh herbs and vegetables), excellent whole wheat bread, homemade jam and herbal tea.
We would gladly return to the restaurant, especially for its healthy version of falafel and its calm, inviting atmosphere. The quality of the food and warm hospitality were consistent with every meal we had on Patmos, which was a key ingredient in making our time there so heavenly.
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Galya’s Healthy Baked Falafel
2 cups cooked chickpeas.
1 cup of fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup of fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon of cumin
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of chickpeas flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put all ingredients except flour in a food processor until combined.
The mixture should form semi-dry crumbles that stick together when you press them.
Stir in the flour – until it’s just dry enough to handle.
Form into 9 patties and bake for 18 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve with homemade tahini, chopped Israeli salad and fresh pita bread.